OTHELLO — Shoes and singlets adorned the rack behind the table Bernie Garza Jr. sat at, waiting to make his future official.
There was the Spider-Man singlet from elementary school all the way to the striking red singlet Garza Jr. wore when he won the 182-pound state championship back in February. His father, Bernie Garza Sr., said the small pair of shoes was an accident.
What’s wrestling? Soccer was his specialty.
Well, the mat officially overtook the pitch Thursday when Garza Jr. signed his national letter of intent to wrestle for Arizona Christian University.
“Once soccer season was over, I realized how much I really do like athletics and how I want my life to go on — like how I want to be an athletic director, I always want to keep sports in my life,” he said. “Getting this opportunity to play in college and continuing my education, too, to go with it was just like the ultimate factor. I just really wanted to do it. I love wrestling so it is another chance to keep doing what I love.”
Garza Jr. was a three-sport standout for the Huskies, playing linebacker and kicker for the football team, wrestling at 182 pounds and captaining the soccer team.
More importantly, Garza Jr. also excelled in the classroom. He was a two-time academic state champion, was awarded a handful of local scholarships, graduated from Columbia Basin College with his associate’s degree and maintained perfect attendance from kindergarten through high school graduation.
“I think he really understands the importance of education,” head wrestling coach Rudy Ochoa II said. “I know his family understands the importance of education so to be able to compete in wrestling or any athletics in college is a privilege and I think that Bernie understands that and he’s going to do what matters most, which is his education first.”
Arizona Christian head coach Travis Patrick contacted Ochoa II in hopes of learning more about Garza Jr. In his email, Patrick was mostly interested in Garza Jr.’s character. Ochoa II had no trouble describing his 182-pounder as the consummate leader.
“If you’re just starting your program there, this is the kind of guy that you want on your team ... at least representing your university,” Ochoa II said. “Here at Othello High School he was the perfect person for our team because he’s a good leader, he’s always going to be there at practice on time, he’s going to stick around and put in the extra work so he’s a lead by example-type athlete and everybody around him kind of sees that.”